Led by running back Kadin Remsberg’s late game heroics, the Air Force Falcons defeated the Washington State Cougars 31-21 in convincing fashion in the Cheez-It Bowl Friday night.
The win gave the Falcons their first 11-win season since 1998 and their best finish under head coach Troy Calhoun.
Coming into Friday night’s game many experts expected a high powered, offensive shootout between both teams. What they got what was an Air Force offense that had a historic night as they set a Cheez-It Bowl possession time record as they had the ball for 43:24 and a disappointing Washington State offense.
Even though both school’s offenses rank in the top 25 in points per game, this game did not start out the way many though it would. Each team only had the ball once in the first quarter and neither team scored in the first quarter due to Air Force’s 20 play, 98-yard drive.
Anthony Gordon started off the game completing his first three passes for 49 yards and put the Cougars on the goal line. Then the offense started to stall. Gordon threw two incomplete passes and running back Max Borghi rushed twice to no avail as the Cougars turned the ball over on downs.
The Falcons took over on the two-yard line and drove 98 yards downfield where DJ Hammond III capped off the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown to start the second quarter. The Falcons took over 13 minutes on the drive due to their triple option, run heavy offense.
Remsberg said that running the clock and winding their opponent down was one of their main objectives heading into this game.
“With the type of offense we run, we want to grind our opponents down. And driving the ball that long, taking all of that time off the clock, it definitely plays a mental factor in the game. So that was huge for us,” Remsberg said.
On the next Washington State possession Gordon led the Cougars to the goal line for another fourth and goal, but this time he would not let the Cougar’s offense leave the field without putting points up on the board. Gordon connected with wide receiver Dezmon Patmon for a two-yard touchdown tying the game at seven.
The Falcon’s second possession mirrored the Cougars first as they marched all the way down field where Cougar safety Skyler Thomas came up with a big third down pass breakup. Unlike Washington State, Air Force chose to kick the first field goal of the game and go up three points.
On the Cougar’s first play after receiving the kickoff Gordon fumbled on a Grant Donaldson sack and Air Force recovered. The Falcons capitalized as it took them only four plays to go 28 yards where fullback Taven Birdow punched in the team’s second touchdown of the night. Birdow finished with 20 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons.
Luckily for Washington State, Gordon was able to bring the game within three before halftime as he coordinated a 5 play, 75-yard drive that he capped off with a five-yard completion to running back Max Borghi.
“I didn't think we disrupted them very much the first half. I thought we played to not lose,” head coach Mike Leach said about his team’s first half performance. “If you can disrupt their offensive line, it's like any offense. If you disrupt the offensive line, then you have more opportunities. I didn't think we did that.”
In the third quarter things started to get even worse for Mike Leach’s squad. Air Force immediately drove 75 yards for the first touchdown of the second half, and once again the drive took up over six minutes.
The Cougars then got the ball and went three and out. After forcing the Falcons to punt for the first time in Friday night’s game, the Cougars once again had the chance to cut the lead as they entered the fourth quarter.
As had been the case all night the Cougars once again got down to fourth and goal and once again, they were stopped.
With over 14 minutes left in the game and Air Force burning the clock with their triple option offense, Washington State needed a stop if they wanted to have a fighting chance. The Cougars defense was up to the challenge as they stepped up and gave their offense another chance as they forced Air Force to punt for their second consecutive drive.
Anthony Gordon stepped up big time as he orchestrated a quick four play touchdown drive narrowing Air Force’s lead once again to three.
Unfortunately for Washington State, its defense could not hold the Falcons for a third consecutive drive. Remsberg had runs of 22 and 13 that got Air Force goal line, but the Cougar defense had not given up just yet.
This time it was the Falcon’s offense that decided to go for it on fourth and goal as Remsberg came up big once again as he stretched his right arm over the pylon to secure the victory. Remsberg finished the game with 26 carries for a game high 178 yards and a touchdown.
Calhoun said that it was a no brainer to go for it on fourth down due to the situation his team was in.
“You're always thinking situationally,” Calhoun said. “It's a three-point game with roughly four minutes to go. If you don't convert, then you're requiring the opponent to go 97 yards. If you hit a field goal, you're up 6, but now they have a chance to inherit different field position.”
Even though his team could not get the job done, Gordon finished off a historic season with another stellar game as he completed 28-of-42 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Another bright spot for the Cougars was linebacker Jahad Woods who set a Cheez-It Bowl record with 20 total tackles.
As for Air Force, Calhoun said that they would love to have the chance to play in the Cheez-It Bowl once again, especially due to the big support that the state of Arizona has for the service members, enlisted crew, officers and family members in the Air Force.
“I think the other part too that was super, super cool, just all the blue in the stadium tonight was extraordinary,” Calhoun said. “For a road game, a bowl game, we've had some pretty impressive turnouts. There was no doubt, you felt like maybe we should have worn the home jerseys this evening. “